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Scientists on lookout for meteor fragments north of Peterborough

Meteorite hunters can look for a piece of space rock similar to this. Researchers at the ROM and University of Western Ontario are asking the public’s help to find fragments of meteoric fireball that was seen in the southern Ontario sky Monday evening.

Handout/Royal Ontario Museum/Handout/Royal Ontario Museum

Researchers at the Royal Ontario Museum and University of Western Ontario are asking for the public's help to find fragments of meteoric fireball that were seen in the southern Ontario sky on Monday evening.

The UWO astronomers say fragments of the meteor likely fell just north of Peterborough, near the town of Selwyn near the eastern end of Upper Stony Lake.

The cameras recorded a slow-moving fireball, estimated to be no bigger than a basketball, around 6 p.m. on Monday near Lake Erie, which then moved north-northeast, said Peter Brown, the director of UWO's Centre for Planetary and Space Exploration.

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The cameras were able to track the fireball's descent for about 10 seconds travelling at 14 km per second. The meteor continued to penetrate deep into the atmosphere at an altitude of about 30 kilometres, which meant the fireball was "massive," Mr. Brown said.

"The long duration of 10 seconds, along with the deep penetration and low velocity are all rare things. It suggests strongly that some rocks survived and made it to the ground," he said.

Scientists are not often able to link meteors a particular orbit of the solar system, but Mr. Brown said this meteorite is linked to the orbit between Jupiter and Mars.

"When we can put it into a spatial context, it forms a powerful data set," he said. He described finding a meteorite from the fireball captured by video as the equivalent of studying samples brought back from a space mission – where knowing where the object comes from helps to inform scientific understanding.

Most of the meteorites date back to the inception of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, said Ian Nicklin, the ROM's mineralogy technician.

"They come from asteroids that were formed the same time as celestial planets such as the Earth," he said. "A lot of them really haven't changed much since that time, so they really are a glimpse back into our earliest periods of the solar system."

Meteor recovery is rare in southern Ontario, Mr. Nicklin added. Most of the meteors crash into water bodies or in remote communities to the north.

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"The last time we had a meteor like this was in 2009, when we put out a similar press release, and a lady came forward with a fragment that crashed into her SUV," Mr. Brown said.

The fragments would likely be dark matte in colour and weigh no more than a few grams. The outer crust would appear melted and charred. People who think they may have found a meteorite fragment should contact the ROM, which is leading the recovery.

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